Beth Wanjiku Koigi – A solution for cheaper, cleaner water

Thanks to Majik Water, isolated and low-income communities have access to drinking water in Kenya. Mostly by magic. Or, at least, thanks to the NTIC. Beth Wanjiku Koigi, 26 years old, came up with the plan.

“If you have air, you can have drinking water.”

Such is the slogan of Majik Water, a start-up that provides affordable, drinkable water to water scarce and low-income communities across Kenya. The company is chaired and co-founded by Beth Wanjiku Koigi, a 26-year-old Kenyan woman. She, too, suffered from having to buy dirty, contaminated water while at university. As a result, she created her own water filter and started a successful business selling over 5,000 filters in Kenya in the past 5 years. On the ground, she realizes that more and more areas are frequently deprived of water, as rivers run dry and groundwater is depleted.

“We are facilitating access to safe drinking water for low-income households in rural, arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya. There is six times more water in the air than in all rivers combined. An untapped source to help drought-affected communities. We are using hydrophilic materials to capture this water. If you have air, you can have clean and safe drinking water. Ten liters in 24 hours, off-grid, straight out of the air using solar technology. We tested the prototype at NASA Ames in Mountain View, California, where the relative humidity is about 58%, in line with most of Kenya. We are designing and prototyping a solution that offers clean water at a low cost. The problem is not limited to Kenya. The UN estimates that 1.8 billion people will be suffering from water scarcity by 2025.”

Beth is familiar with the problem, not only because she has first-hand experience but also because she has studied it. After eight years of working in development projects in East Africa, Beth, born in Kiambu, Kirenga village, into a family of five children and to farming parents, studied community development at university thanks to a scholarship. With a master’s degree in planning and project management from the University of Nairobi, Beth is equally involved in solving water-related problems, an idea that was planted as a child, as she watched villagers travel miles to collect water they then carried back in jerrycans balanced on their heads. “During my years on campus, I got to meet many people and to research waterborne diseases in Eastern Kenya. I learned that 56% of the population lacked access to safe drinking water and that 80% of the diseases diagnosed were waterborne. In my fourth year, I launched Aqua Clean Initiative, an organization that provides affordable filters to poor communities in Kenya.” In 2014, she received a grant from the Pollination project as support for her work, so she may keep providing water filters to communities that lack the access to clean water.

“Today, we have supplied filters to over 500 households.”

A technological solution that she did not design all by herself: her father uses water supply technology to irrigate his farm, one of her brothers runs a gutter and roof manufacturing company, while the other is a hydraulic engineer and builds dams.

“There is a direct link between water scarcity and water contamination. People with little water will not bother to filter it, which exposes them to waterborne diseases. I also wondered why we spend so much time and energy fetching and carrying water, when there is atmospheric water production technology out there that can be used to access water wherever.”

With this idea in the back of her mind, Beth applied to the Global Solutions program, which led to her enrolling at Singularity University in Silicon Valley, USA – the world’s innovation capital – where she met her partners, Clare Sewell and Anastasia Kaschenko. Majik Water was born in July 2017.

“Our global atmosphere is an untapped source of clean drinking water. But this notion of collecting water out of thin air is not exactly new; ancient communities, including Africans and Kenyans, used it to collect dew.”

Majik Water’s biggest challenge was the use of solar energy. The company is looking at ways to simplify the system and make it more user-friendly and affordable for everyone. Other challenges include the need for a lot of power to condense water directly from the air. To solve the problem, Majik Water utilizes materials with a high affinity for water molecules in the air, which easily capture them, heat them and collect the released water vapor. As a result, the technology is more energy efficient.

She won the forum’s Energy Award

Winner of the EDF Pulse Africa Award in December 2017, Beth was also shortlisted to join the Women In Africa (WIA) Initiative’s Program 54.

“I had high hopes that I would meet women working on the most critical issues facing Africa, particularly in the area of agriculture and water. The key purpose of this meeting is to assess how we can build future collaborations and partnerships. It is always beneficial to know someone from another country, so if you want to introduce your technology there, you have an entry point.”

After WIA 54

But Beth got more than just a connection out of it. “I did indeed meet a very interesting prospective partner. There is this lady who supplies drinking water in Rwanda like we do. Once our technology is ready, she will be the first to distribute it.”